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There seems to be a lot of confusion on the internet surrounding hybrid, heirloom, open pollinated, and GMO seeds. Seed shopping can be overwhelming enough without all the contradicting information you may hear on social media. My goal is for this blog post to clear up your confusion and help you decide which types of seeds are right for you and your garden.
Let’s get this one out of the way! There seems to be a common misconception that home gardeners need to be careful not to purchase GMO seeds. I hope you’ll find it relieving to hear that GMO seeds cannot be sold at the consumer level. Let me repeat it. As a home gardener, you cannot purchase GMO seeds. They are not at the big box stores or at your local nursery.
GMO crops are patented and only sold to large professional farmers. In fact, farmers must enter into a contract with the seed developer when they purchase GMO seeds. If you didn’t have to sign a contract, it is not a GMO!
A hybrid plant is the offspring of two parent plants that were cross-pollinated. For example, if you took the pollen from one tomato and pollinated a different variety of tomato with it, the seeds in that tomato would grow a whole new variety of tomato plant. It would be a mixture of the genetics of both of the parent plants, making it an F1 hybrid.
There is nothing inherently bad about hybrids. In fact, depending on your goals, they might be the right choice for you! Hybrids usually produce more than heirlooms, are more uniform, and have better disease resistance. They also tend to thrive in high tunnels. This is why hybrids are the most common choice for market gardeners.
The downside to hybrids is that you cannot save the seeds. Technically, you can, but since the genetics are not stable, you will not get the same variety. Hybrid seeds are also not as affordable as many heirloom seeds.
When you are shopping for seeds, you may also see hybrids labeled with the term “F1” or “F1 Hybrid.” This is simply a way to say that it is a first generation hybrid.
If you are looking to purchase F1 hybrid seeds, Johnny’s Selected Seeds is my go to!
Open pollinated seeds are seeds where the genetics have been stabilized. This means that the variety used to be a F1 hybrid, but they isolated the traits for many generations, usually around 7 generations, or 7 years.
You can save seeds from an open pollinated plant, and as long as there is no cross pollination in your garden, it will grow the same variety as the original seeds.
You can find open pollinated seeds many places. Most seed shops, including many of those linked on this page sell open pollinated seeds. If you are looking for incredibly unique open pollinated seeds, you should check out Wild Boar Farms.
So then what is an heirloom variety? An heirloom is an open pollinated variety that has been around for a minimum of 50 years. These varieties usually have exceptional flavor, but may struggle with disease resistance. They also are going to produce less than most hybrids.
There are a wide variety of heirloom plants, many of which are incredibly unique. These beautiful plants are important because they have a story to tell, and they are a piece of our history. When you save the seeds, you will get a plant that is the same as the parent plant.
There are countless places to buy heirloom seeds. Some of my favorites in the US are MIgardener and Botanical Interests. If you live in the low desert of the southwest and are looking for regionally adapted seeds check out Native Seeds/ SEARCH and local gardeners Better in Suburbia and The Desert Smells Like Veggies. These businesses may also sell open pollinated hybrids.